Much of the pre-draft talk surrounding the New York Jets involves their need for an additional impact wide receiver, but they also need a starting-caliber tight end. The Jets' current depth chart features five tight ends, none of which are good enough to make a game-changing impact on offense.
Jeff Cumberland is the best pass-catching tight end the Jets flaunt on offense, but he didn't greatly improve in 2013 after being given the nod as the team's go-to player at his position to start the season. Cumberland endured concussion-like symptoms after taking a vicious hit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 last season and never fully reached his maximum capacity to catch passes.
Cumberland started 13 games for the Jets in 2013, recording 26 receptions for 398 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch, nearly a full three yards better than what he was able to manage in the season prior. Cumberland is a solid No. 2 tight end for the Jets, but he doesn't boast the type of playmaking ability offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would ideally like out of that position.
The Jets are going to draft a tight end at some point within the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL draft. While it remains highly likely for general manager John Idzik to pull the trigger on a receiver with the 18th overall pick, the Jets will likely look to select a tight end in the second round, considering the limited number of high-quality players at that position in this year's draft.
New York's most realistic options at tight end are former Texas Tech standout Jace Amaro, former Notre Dame red-zone target Troy Niklas and former Washington big-bodied receiving target Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The most coveted tight end available in this year's draft is former North Carolina downfield threat Eric Ebron, who will assuredly be taken ahead of the Jets' first-round pick. Amaro could perhaps be taken at the bottom of the first round, considering the Patriots and Seahawks are both in the market for an upgrade at that position.
The two most probable fits for the Jets at tight end are Niklas and Seferian-Jenkins, both of whom would improve the team's offense.
At 6'6'' and 276 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins boasts value as both a pass-catcher and a run-blocker. After acquiring explosive running back Chris Johnson in free agency, the Jets figure to be a run-first team yet again in 2014, which makes run blocking a supreme priority when considering potential tight end prospects.
Seferian-Jenkins was relatively inactive at the annual scouting combine in February because of a stress fracture in his left foot. According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the hairline fracture in his foot is healing at a normal rate, which means he could be ready for minicamps this summer.
Still, concern over Seferian-Jenkins' injury may prompt some teams to back off, which could ultimately cause his draft stock to drop into the third round, where he would be a steal if able to avoid further injury.
Seferian-Jenkins exhibited average strength at the combine, pumping 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press, according to NFL.com. To compare, Niklas recorded top-performer status on the bench press, cranking 27 reps, according to NFL.com. He was also a top performer in the 60-yard shuttle, showcasing impressive agility for a player of his size.
At 6'6'' and 270 pounds, Niklas boasts similar size in comparison to Seferian-Jenkins, but he won't be forced to overcome injury leading into his rookie season.
Niklas registered 498 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 32 receptions in 2013, averaging 15.6 yards per catch. It should also be noted that Niklas was forced to catch passes from erratic quarterback Tommy Rees, who often struggled with accuracy.
Washington signal-caller Keith Price, who frequently connected with Seferian-Jenkins, completed 66.2 percent of his pass attempts in 2013, whereas Rees completed just 54.1 percent of his throws.
As a converted defensive player, Niklas possesses more value as a fluid blocker than Seferian-Jenkins. He has the ability to dominant in the trenches, which should translate into immediate success at the next level when trying to open up running lanes. According to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com, the arrow is pointing up for Niklas.
The Jets should have the chance to snag the Fighting Irish product at No. 49 overall, where they would not only improve their passing game, but also their rushing attack.